It’s been an alarming 369 days since the Australian national team last played a competitive football match.
Away to Jordan for the second round of World Cup qualifiers, the Socceroos walked away from The Jewel with a 1-0 victory in their back pockets and completely unaware that the globe would be brought to its knees just four months later, no thanks to COVID-19.
For the most part, the powers-that-be at Football Federation Australia have done what appeared to be their best to navigate through these highly unprecedented and challenging times.
But it doesn’t matter which way you slice and dice it, zero senior national team activity for well over a year during a time when other nations were finding alternate solutions didn’t bode well for anyone, least of all Graham Arnold.
In August this year, a clearly frustrated Arnold told Newscorp, “we can’t go 18 months with me not seeing the players or not having that connection” and was said to be working tirelessly to organise a string of matches in Europe.
Shortly after, it was revealed that two international friendlies were scheduled to take place against England and the USA in London during the November window whereby only European-based players could feature.
It wasn’t ideal but all of sudden, a semblance of hope was given to the Australian football populous, that perhaps not all was lost in 2020.
But, true to form, the pandemic took another unpredictable turn and with COVID-19 cases rising dramatically in the UK, FFA announced they would be pulling the plug “due to the ongoing and evolving risks associated with COVID-19.”
"FFA is committed to ensuring Australia’s national teams at all levels return to action as soon as possible, however ensuring the health and wellbeing of players and staff remains FFA’s foremost priority," the governing body said in a statement.
The English FA were swift in finding a replacement opponent in the form of the Republic of Ireland and just six days ago, the Three Lions defeated The Boys in Green 3-0 at Wembley while the country is gripped by widespread lockdowns.
Naturally, it helped a great-deal that all but one of Stephen Kenny’s international squad were based in the UK, but it didn’t quash the niggling question now that the last of the international windows for 2020 have closed - did we do enough to find other options?
Adding fuel to the fire were the revelations that Arnold was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the state of affairs and reports that he was offered lucrative deals in the K-League and the MLS started infiltrating headlines.
When we caught up with the Socceroos boss on The World Game LIVE in the aftermath, Arnold admitted: “it was a difficult decision but only difficult mentally because with this Coronavirus, as you know, the thing I love doing most is getting out on the field and coaching players.”
“I haven’t done that since Thailand in January so it was a tough decision but once my heart and my gut took over, there was only one decision for me. You know how much I love the green and gold and how much I love Australia.”
Given this, Arnold’s chance to coach the Olyroos side in friendlies against A-League sides Sydney FC and Macarthur FC over the last week would have come as a welcome relief but by the time the next international window is due to roll around in March 2021, the senior men’s national team will have been idle for an unnerving 16 months.
From the governing body’s perspective, a spokesperson revealed that they are currently in talks with the AFC over the resumption of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup preliminary joint qualification Round 2 fixtures.
With the Asian Football Confederation recently announcing revised dates for the round 2 qualifiers to be completed by June 2021, it’s understood that the AFC would like these matches to be played in the FIFA windows offered in March and June 2021.
As it stands, the Socceroos have four matches remaining in Round 2 with two slated for March 2021 and two for June 2021.
“After these fixtures, we will then turn our attention to Round 3 of qualifiers which are scheduled for FIFA windows in September, October, and November 2021," the spokesperson said.
“While 2020 has unfortunately been a lean year in terms of national team activity, we believe the next few years will generate huge excitement for the Australian football community and the millions of supporters of our national teams.
“We have between 14 and 17 games to go on the road to Qatar for the Socceroos, two teams preparing to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India in 2022, the AFC Asian Cup in China in 2023, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil.”
With such a congested period on the cards, one can only hope that the problems of 2020, along with all of its misfortunes and missed opportunities, will be a thing of the past.